All critique of Miley isn’t hatred rooted in slut-shaming

Oct 05, 2013 @ 11:46 am | By TheFeministGriote | 7 Comments

feminism now whatYesterday I was called “whorephobic” anti-sex workers and accused of asserting a privileged view point becase I tweeted the following,  ”Sinead gave Miley some sound advice.” Not sure which or what privileged stand point I was espousing, but that is Twitter for you, people hurl insults at you sans context. To my recollection, I have never been afraid of “whores” especially since as a Black woman historically, we have always been labeled as being hyper-sexual creatures who will mate and procreate with anyone. I also don’t take umbrage with “whores” because I have been called worse by own members of  my family and community, it is hard to fear what you’re actively and currently living/surviving. Every single time I dare to be in a public space, I am in danger of becoming public fodder. Who will ask to touch a white woman’s hair? I am also more likely than a white woman to be gunned down “justifiably” by the police. The leading cause of death for Black girls and women ages 15-35 is intimate partner violence. Therefore, fearing “whores”or the label is not even on my radar of important things to check for because as you can see my plate is full!

Furthermore, as a woman whose felt forced to be intimate with partners for a myriad of survival reasons, manufacturing “slut” shame is not really a hobby that I would indulge in.  With that said, I have no desire to reclaim, march for, 0r defend the word “slut.” I have no desire to do so for the same reasons I don’t want anyone calling me a “lady.” The freedom to fall from grace and from the pedestal of virtuosity  is a white woman’s problem. White performance of femininity is considered the global archetype of femininity. Women of color and more specifically Black women have never been deemed as full citizens who can exercise agency let alone sexual agency.

Recently the letter that Sinead O’ Conner penned to Miley Cyrus has really divided the feminists community. If you choose to read Sinead’s letter as a slut-shaming letter than there is ample evidence in the letter that you can stand on to make that point. But if you complicate the reading of the letter, you can read it as a woman who barely survived the music industry, trying to offer up some sage advice to a younger singer. But in our ageist American culture young people are not encouraged to heed the advice of older folks and most older people don’t respect the agency of younger people. Now again, I am not going to defend Sinead or Cyrus, but I do want to critique the myriad of bold-faced hypocrisies that is surrounding this vey privileged conversation.

First and foremost, everybody and their momma is caping in the defense of Destiny Hope Cyrus aka Miley Cyrus. A vast majority of white feminists have barely called Miley out on her cultural appropriation and how she uses Black women as props, but everyone is defending her sexual agency. As a feminist I do not believe in a one-size fits all form of liberation. What is so liberating about straddling a wrecking ball naked and simulating oral sex on a sledge hammer? Miley’s act in that video feeds into the larger narrative that mainstream feminism force feeds down every woman’s throats. The belief that empowerment and agency can only be summoned up through your crouch. This type of singular narrative is dangerous because not all women are overtly sexual, sexual in the same way, or desire sex. What also makes this narrative  dangerous is the lack of consideration in the flip-side of the argument. Are men also “empowered” by sex in the same way as it is believed that women are “empowered” by sex?  Women who don’t subscribe to this type of “sex-positivity” often run the risk of being labeled a prude or even worse seen as engaging in slut-shaming!

In the book Female Chauvinist Pig by Ariel Levy she writes, “If Male Chauvinist Pigs regarded women as pieces of meat, we would outdo them and be Female Chauvinist Pigs: women who make sex objects out of other women and ourselves…we have determined that ALL (emphasis mine) empowered women must be overtly and publicly sexual…”  I have no qualms with sex, sexy, or nudity nor do I have any problems with pop-stars being sexy. One of my favorite artists happens to be Beysus who performs almost exclusively in a bedazzled onesie. There  is a slippery slope between sexual liberation and one simply objectifying themselves for pay and calling it “freedom.”  What makes Miley at 20 a “movement” or blueprint for female empowerment? Treating a sledge hammer as a phallic symbol will liberate who and where? We must lean into and consider the gray areas of this over-simplified ideology. A pop-star like Janelle Monae in my opinion is very sexy and is also exerting and exercising her agency and why aren’t we collectively heralding this as brave, powerful, or a “movement?”

There is a knee-jerk reaction among mainstream feminists to be supremely protective and very vocal in the defense of Miley, all without offering any real critical analysis of her behavior. Miley’s response to Sinead was extremely problematic and rooted in ableist language, Cyrus essentially made fun of Sinead’s past  mental illness. Because nothing is more empowering than using a woman’s mental illness as a tool of shaming and silencing. When now 32 year-old Beyonce exercised her agency to name her tour “The Mrs. Carter” tour many white women took personal offense with that and felt that Beyonce was tarnishing the feminists brand. Now in full disclosure, I have critiqued Beyonce from a feminists stand-point (proof that you can critique something or someone that you like). However, I think it is ridiculous to shame a woman for naming her tour after her husband.  I also find it interesting that many white feminists publicly shamed Rihanna for exercising her agency when she rekindled her relationship with Chris Brown. Didn’t Rihanna have agency? October is Domestic Violence awareness month and it is a fact that many feminists know that it takes several times for a woman to leave an abusive partner, but no one seemed to remember or care when judgement and vitriol was being thrown Ri Ri’s way.

The truth is that mainstream feminists seem to believe that there is only one form of feminism and and there is only one prescriptive way to perform this feminism, an idea steeped in extreme privilege. Everything is being divided into binaries, even though, I thought progressive feminists hated binaries. Critiquing Miley Cyrus can’t relegate to you to being a simple “hater” or being “whorephobic” or worse “anti-sex-workers.” Sinead never mentioned sex-workers therefore, I am totally confused how that conclusion came to be. Feminism is a sociopolitical lens and since all women aren’t oppressed in the same way therefore, we all can’t be liberated in the same way. Our lives our highly interesected and nuanced and so should the dominant discourse around feminism be.

Mainstream feminist like to gate keepers are only concerned with protecting those who have the same amount of skin and class privilege as they do. It has become very chic to be pro-sex workers and march to reclaim the word “slut,” but there isn’t the same gusto or concern to march for and with fast-food workers, Wal-Mart workers, migrant workers, or domestic workers  demanding better pay and working conditions.  The rights of all workers should be of concern to all feminist, especially since we know women and children are likely to be poor which further exacerbates the feminization of poverty. Lady Gaga dons a hot-pink Burqua no one rushes in the defense of Muslim women, Michelle Williams (the white one) appears in red-face in a magazine and there is no organized effort to check her appropriation of Indigenous people. Ain’t they women too?

You see when your body is highly  politicized and racialized there isn’t much you can do to command respect. Everything you do is policed and can and will be appropriated. Trans* women of color are being murdered at an alarming rate for daring to be women of color in public spaces, but the mainstream discourse on this issue is nil. Mainstream feminists aren’t interested in having complicated conversations about the singular road to “empowerment” that they’ve constructed, and who can afford to politically and socially travel down that road?

 

 

7 Responses to “ All critique of Miley isn’t hatred rooted in slut-shaming ”

  1. “There is a slippery slope between sexual liberation and one simply objectifying themselves for pay and calling it “freedom.” ”

    Maybe this is one of the things that led to that convo going downhill so fast. The woman tweeting you is a sex worker “objectifying herself for pay” is literally what she does.

  2. Hi,

    Thank you for writing this. Some sex workers (and others) have been criticising Sinead’s letter for slut-shaming — yes — and I think the points you’ve raised here about reclaiming sluthood being largely a white luxury is really enlightening.

    They’ve also been criticising the letter because, besides the issue of whether Miley’s being shamed for being ostentatiously sexual in her videos or whatevs, Sinead used phrases like “prositute yourself” and “make a prostitute of you”, as well as the (racialised) notion of her being ‘pimped’, throughout the letter. The implication is that she’s selling sexual labour (well, yes, fair enough), and cannot possibly be in control of herself (would query that), and that it’s of course a terrible thing to be a prostitute, or anything that resembles one (well, gee thanks, Sinead.) So I think result sex work twitter has been up in arms about the letter, its language, and its reproduction of that stigma they get fucked over by all the time. A lot of the people criticising the letter for this are not what anyone would call mainstream Feminists, they’re very much interested in labour rights generally for other precarious workers, and they did criticise Miley’s appropriation of black culture and Lady Gaga’s islamophobia, and plenty seem to be of the opinion that Sinead could stand to get on writing open letters about that instead. Most of them I would describe as sex critical, rather than sex positive. They see the empowerment-through-sex narrative for the BS that it is. It’s used to discredit them frequently when they try and talk about the reality of their work.

    I think when you were called ‘whorephobic’ yesterday (which is about reproducing stigma etc rather than anything to do with fear) it was, as far as I can tell, related to you appearing to support a letter that reinforced a lot of anti-SW stuff that a lot of SWs found really hurtful. And then I think things escalated because people were talking at cross purposes.

    I don’t know if this is useful, but yeah, I just wanted to point out that the letter was pretty shitty if you’re a sex worker.

    x

  3. For the record the person who called me “whorephobic” is not a person I am familiar with and therefore I don’t know if that person is or isn’t a sex worker. I tried to engage the person in conversation, but it went left. Once again, I am not against sex-work or sex-workers. I can say that Sinead offer Miley “sound advice” in that letter without not co-signing on the letter 100%. I am interested in nuance ways of reading an understanding things. In the post above, I did mention that if you wanted to read Sinead’s letter as “slut-shaming” that you can make the argument. I specifically and strategically chose not to dissect the letter, but to focus on how conversations such as these stymie progress and ignore race within feminism.

  4. I agree with Eithine. IMO Sinead’s letter was not really ‘sound advice’. It was judgmental and patronizing of sex workers as well as Miley. Also while there are some feminists possibly a lot of them white that are supporting Miley or even holding her up as some sort of symbol of feminist empowerment I don’t think that is as important as the fact that she has a right to make her choices and to make her mistakes without this moral policing. I’ve always thought it disingenuous for older women who regret their personal choices trying to limit the choices of younger women in the name of ‘sage advice’. If they hadn’t made the ‘mistakes’ they would have no advice to give. They are merely expressing their remorse because their choices didn’t work out for them. they really can’t make those assumptions about how it will work out for someone else and even if they can they shouldn’t and have no right to. Sinead doesn’t deserve to be insulted by Miley but she did kind of ask for it. After all Miley’s mother has been by her side through most of this debacle, who are we to now judge or advice (another word for judge really)

  5. If you think Sinead’s letter is “slut shaming” then you my friends, have very much missed the point. Many pop stars prostitute themselves in what we call “selling out”. In this case, it does appear the Miley is selling out her talent for mass media uproar in a lousy and degrading way to sell records.

    The music industry works in a very interesting way were pop stars are being used in the propaganda machine. I don’t think all pop stars are keen to this. Especially when they are under the I fluence of drugs. Which leads me to ask, why is it acceptable that this 20 year old girl is singing about drugs at the VMA’s where the majority of viewers are teenagers and preteens?

    Sinead’s letter was wonderfully constructed and she has a very valid argument. I think many people don’t want to see how ugly the music industry is. It’s our guilty pleasure to indulge in watching the collapse of pop stars and they (publicists, producers, media outlets) know this. Watching someone like Miley go down hill sells. And believe me. She is going to burn out faster than Britney Spears.

    This is an unacceptable pattern to use women like this.

    Maybe Sinead should have said that Miley is being raped of her talent. Because that is what is happening.
    The rest (VMA’s, music videos) is just a charade.

  6. Slut-shaming is basically any time a person implies that someone is in some way bad, inferior, or a problem because of their ‘sexual impurity’ or sexual immodesty- whether it’s because the person enjoys sex for pleasure, because she has posed nude, because of when she lost her virginity, because of the way she dresses and dances, e.t.c. I think whorephobia is when people demonize sex workers, sometimes by implying that females need to make sure that their clothing choices, dance moves, and sexuality separate them from sex-workers. To me the part of Sinead’s letter that was worse than the slut-shaming and whorephobic aspects was the subtle rape apologism. The part where she said this:

    ” This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals…”

    The reason why a lot of feminists have been paying attention to Miley Cyrus and her critics is because we want to take down our culture of slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and this girl has actually become a great tool for confronting that problem. I think that these are issues that don’t just effect women and girls who are white- it effects women and girls all over the world, just in different ways.

    But even though she and the issues of slut-shaming and rape apologism have gotten a lot of attention this year, feminist as a whole aren’t ignoring everything else. Just look at feministing and jezebel.

  7. Please listen to an interview of Miley Cyrus, and understand her professional background and resume. She isn’t forced to dress or act a certain way to be popular. She already has a huge fan base, and great industry contacts. She is not a puppet being played by the music industry. She is expressing her true self. She talks continually in interviews about how she dislikes wearing a lot of clothes because it makes her feel uncomfortable. She also talks about how she tried to play the prudish game when she was under 18, but that once she was an adult, she took over creative control. It’s somewhat impossible to accurately understand what she is doing onstage without listening to her interviews. And yet so many people who have never heard her interviews jump to conclusions about her being an out of control victim. Unfortunately, due to the back lash she received in 2013, she is now going back into her shell and wearing more clothing in 2014 because that’s what other people want, and they won’t just focus on her music instead of the parts of her body that are uncovered. Does it occur to anyone that she works out diligently to get her body to look exactly how she wants it to look, and maybe she’s proud of her hard work? In 2014, I can’t believe that slut-shaming and sexual assault victim-blaming still exists. You all do realise that what most of my friends wear around these days without blinking an eye (except for a select group of Seventh Day Adventist friends), would have been considered underwear in the 1800s? How will we ever get past the 90s or early 2000s if we slut-shame anyone who wears more revealing clothing than what was accepted in the 90s or early 2000s? Do people really want to stay stuck in the past? I don’t know if you have heard of Jill Meagher who was raped and murdered in Melbourne Australia on 22 September 2012, but people blamed her for being raped and murdered because she was an attractive woman walking home at 1:30am in the morning. People still think this way. If anyone can break this toxic, abusive psychology, it is people in the lime-light.

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